Combat Commander

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Combat Commander (GMT Games) is a game about tactical combat in WW2. Units are squads and teams, hexes are 30 meters across, and each turn represents “several minutes” of real time.

The core of the game is card driven; you cannot do anything without a card, either as an Order (something you do in your turn) or as an Action (which may be a reaction to the enemy or some way of supplementing your own Orders. For example, you need a card to have your units fire, or move, or recover. And you also need a card to use spraying fire, grenades, and bore sighting. The cards also include a wide range of truly chaotic random events. This game excels at delivering chaos. (For some it is too much chaos.) Lastly, the card deck that each nationality has (72 cards) also does away with the need for dice, as the die rolls are at the bottom of each card.

The overwhelming sensation when playing the game is often a sense of powerlessness; you cannot do much if you have the wrong cards. And a sudden sniper attack, or enemy reinforcement on your flank, or any other setback by way of a random event, cannot be planned for. But the good news is your opponent is in the same boat! In short, you not only need to understand tactical combat when playing this game, but you need to know how to manage a hand of cards. Think Squad Leader and Up Front, shaken together, and served up. Oh, and there are no tanks; this is infantry on infantry action.

I had the luxury of a recent face to face session with Ofer to play this game. It was the first outing for him, so we started with scenario 1 to see how things would go. He enjoyed it enough to ask for another game and we moved on to the meatier scenario 2. In a nutshell, my artillery and repeated lucky random events meant my American forces carried the day. I consoled him by telling him that the same thing happened to me when I had played it as the Germans.

So far as the game is concerned, I like it and would play it a gain at any time of asking. However, I have my suspicions the game is not balanced. I do not see how it is possible to balance a game like this given the vagaries of the random events and the nature of card draws. (See the comment above about chaos. As a further example, in scenario 2, my Americans had plentiful use of their artillery because those artillery cards came up when I could use them. Poor Ofer’s card that delayed my artillery was rarely seen in that role…)

But the balance issues I perceive – and I may be wrong – do not stop my enjoyment. The game, after all, delivers an intensive story like experience; troops fight, rally, recover, and rout. Key positions are taken, lost and re-taken. Snipers take their toll. Random reinforcements appear. Leaders shepherd their charges through the hell of war. I very much enjoy it whether winning or losing. Either way, it’s a great game.